ARLINGTON, Texas — When Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney handed his national championship-contending team to freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence in September, this is what he had in mind.
Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 2 Clemson beat No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 on Saturday to reach the College Football Playoff championship game for the third time in four seasons.
“He’s just so poised. He just sees it. And he’s got a gift of an arm,” Swinney said.
The Tigers (14-0) will play for the national title Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
Clemson’s overpowering and experienced defensive line, led by ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, smothered Ian Book and the Fighting Irish (12-1), holding them to 248 yards. On offense, freshmen led the way. Lawrence, making his 10th career start, was 27 of 39 and didn’t throw an interception against a Notre Dame defense that had been one of the best on the country.
“There’s not much pressure when you have guys this good playing around you,” Lawrence said.
Freshman receiver Justyn Ross had six catches for 148 yards and two long touchdowns.
The Irish hung around for a quarter, with the teams exchanging field goals. But early in the second, Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love went out with an apparent leg injury and Lawrence started taking apart the Irish secondary.
Lawrence hooked up with Ross on a deep throw down the sideline and the big receiver beat Love’s backup, Donte Vaughn, for a tackle-breaking 52-yard score early in the second quarter. The Irish looked as if they might be able to keep it close to halftime, but the offense couldn’t keep that ferocious Clemson front, even without suspended star tackle Dexter Lawrence, out of the backfield.
In the final two minutes, Lawrence connected with Ross on a 42-yard score and with Tee Higgins for a one-handed, 19-yard touchdown reception – again over Vaughn – with two seconds left. Lawrence was 13 for 15 for 229 yards in the quarter.
That made it 23-3 at the half and once again the Fighting Irish looked outclassed against the best of the best.
Not so different from the 42-14 loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS championship game or the 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.
In fact, Notre Dame is 0-8 in BCS and New Year’s Six games since winning the Cotton Bowl in 1993.
“I thought we played just as athletic as them and just as fast as them, and it came down to execution and we didn’t execute today,” Notre Dame receiver Miles Boykin said.
Though to be fair, Clemson has been doing this to everyone since Lawrence settled in. The Tigers haven’t had an opponent stay within 20 points since a close call against Syracuse on Sept. 29.